Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned Fruits and Vegetables – How to Select

It can be challenging to select between fresh vs frozen vs canned fruits and vegetables based not only on the expediency of cost. Many people  believe that nothing is as nutritious as fresh produce when it comes to fruit and vegetables.

Canned or frozen versions are thought to be less healthy. But is this really true or is this just misplaced reasoning based on what we have heard from others?

With the current economic downturn and transportation challenges since the global pandemic, prices of fresh produce have been steadily climbing.

More and more people are beginning to shift their buying habits to consumption of frozen fruits and vegetables while wondering if they are not compromising on their health.

But are they? This article will discuss the nutrient content of fresh vs frozen vs canned fruits and vegetables

Nutrients in Freshly Harvested Fruits and Vegetables

What happens to nutrients in fruits and vegetables when they are harvested? The ground or tree provides the source of nutrients for growing fruits or vegetables.

Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned
Salad Platter

Hence, food is most nutritious before being harvested. Degradation starts as soon as they are picked from the ground or tree.

The processing of fresh produce by either freezing or canning are used to stop further degradation and lock in nutrients.

The nutrient content of all forms of fruits and vegetables has been analyzed and reported for several nutrition databases……..

Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

These are picked at the peak of ripeness and then flash frozen to keep nutrient loss to a minimum and preserve flavor.  

Although frozen fruits and vegetables are packed at their peak of freshness, they have a shorter storage life than canned.

They last for several months in the freezer and can be a very economical choice.

The nutrient content is comparable to fresh.

Oxidation is the reason that produce start to turn brown after being harvested. Freezing pauses this process of oxidation.

Blanching of produce occurs before freezing. This involves heating the food up for a few minutes at high temperatures to inactivate unwanted enzymes act to breakdown the texture and cause color changes after freezing.

Unfortunately, it causes some slight nutrient reduction.

Canned Fruits and Vegetables

Canning locks in the nutrients at their peak of freshness, and they have a long shelf life. Frozen vegetables should be consumed within 8 months of their purchase.

 Frozen fruits on the other hand should be consumed within 12 months of purchase. The time for citrus is considerably shorter –  4-6 months.

What to Check When Selecting Frozen or Canned Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned – Check sodium content

Sodium is usually added to canned foods to preserve them. Select low-sodium, reduced-sodium or foods that are labeled no-salt.

You should check and compare the sodium content on the Nutrition Facts label and choose the product with the lowest amount. Note that sauces and seasonings can contain excess salt and added calories.

It is recommended that canned vegetables be drained and rinsed to remove more sodium before use.  

Check added sugar content

Select fruit canned in water, its own juice, or light syrup. It is recommended that fruit canned in light syrup be drained and rinsed prior to use. 100% frozen fruits without added sugars should be top choice..

Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned
Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Nutrient Comparison of Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned Fruits and Vegetables

Frozen fruit and vegetables are as nutritious as fresh (Linshan Li et al 2017).  

There can be slight variations, but the differences are usually negligible – for example, cooked-from-frozen peas contain 12mg of vitamin C per 100g, compared to fresh peas which contain 16mg.

Salt and sugar levels may be a little higher in frozen fruit and vegetables. For example, frozen peas have 5.9g sugar per 100g compared to 1.2g in fresh peas per 100g (BBC Goodfood 2018).

Benefits of Using Canned and Frozen Produce

Convenience

Canned fruits and vegetables are convenient to have at home for those times you can’t get to the store

Reduced Prep time

Frozen foods require little preparation – the washing and slicing is already done. Canned foods are cooked prior to packaging, so they are recipe-ready.

Frozen fruit and vegetables are typically easier to prepare, with minimal wastage. They don’t require washing, peeling or chopping and are fast to cook, making them a healthy and convenient option.

Longer Shelf life

Fresh vs Frozen vs Canned
Canned Pear Removed from Syrup

Since they don’t expire quickly, you won’t waste money when buying canned veggies – which sometimes happens with fresh produce that goes bad.

Canning locks in the nutrients at their peak of freshness, and, consequently, they have a long shelf life. Minimal wastage.

Provide Variety

Including frozen and canned fruits and vegetables in your diet can increase variety, especially when some items may not be widely available as fresh.

Saves Money

Depending on the time of year and the specific type of produce, purchasing canned and frozen fruits and vegetables can save you money, especially when they are not in season or if you find your fresh produce spoiling before you can eat it.

Healthy way to preserve fresh produce

Freezing is a widely used long-term method of preservation that retains many of the attributes associated with freshness, with many considering it a better method of preservation than say canning or drying.

Fruit and vegetables don’t require any preservatives or added ingredients when frozen, making freezing a healthy way of extending the life of fresh produce.

However, it’s worth checking labels of commercially frozen produce to ensure they have no added sugar, salt or other flavorings.

Allows access to nutrients out of season

Freezing fresh produce, when in season, is a valuable way to access nutrients like vitamin C during the winter months. Studies suggest people who include frozen produce in their diets tend to eat more fruit and vegetables overall.

Conclusion

Comparing fresh vs frozen vs canned fruits and vegetables reveal that a healthy diet should incorporate all forms and create variety.

References

 Penn State Are Canned and Frozen Fruits and Veggies as Healthy as Fresh? https://5210.psu.edu/canned-frozen-fruits-veggies-healthy-fresh/

BBC Good Food (2018) https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/are-frozen-fruit-vegetables-healthy-fresh

McGinnis, M et al (2020) Fruit Myth or Fact. Is Fresh Fruit Better Than Unsweetened Frozen or Canned Fruit? Nutrition Today: 11/12 2020 – Volume 55 – Issue 6 – p 322-327

Fresh, Frozen or Canned Fruits and Vegetables: All Can Be Healthy Choices!(2018)   https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/add-color/fresh-frozen-or-canned-fruits-and-vegetables-all-can-be-healthy-choices

Linshan Li et al (2017) Selected nutrient analyses of fresh, fresh-stored, and frozen fruits and vegetables. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis Volume 59, June 2017, Pages 8-17

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